Artistic Overnights in Saugerties, NY

I have a longwinded post about travel and what we seek to find when we leave our homes, but it’s not done yet. I apologize for the lack of posts while I’ve been putting it together. However, I’ve continued to have adventures, so here’s a short recap on our recent weekend in the Catskills – and how you can spend the night in a historic lighthouse AND a work of art in one trip!

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If you’ve read some of my posts before, you know I really like the Saugerties Lighthouse. I first discovered it in an email roundup of the world’s most unique hotels, and although it took me nearly a year to sneak into a last-minute cancellation, I have now made three overnight trips. The peace I feel when walking along the trail to the Lighthouse is enough reason alone to bring me back, but the views – regardless of season – and the warm hospitality of Anna, Patrick, and Cricket really make it worth returning. Last time we went (in November) I had been going through some very difficult emotional events and our weekend at the Lighthouse was the first time in weeks I felt happiness. I’ll write about that another day, but believe me when I say the peacefulness of simply being out on the Hudson can really refresh you, even in the darkest of times. At that point we booked our return trip for May – last weekend.

It was raining hard when we left New Jersey and we ended up pulling into the parking area about ten minutes before the tide was supposed to come back in. Patrick called while we were walking along the trail to ensure we were still planning to check in, and I appreciated him looking out for us. With rain boots and umbrellas we bumbled in the front door and were met by Patrick to check in. Up to the East Room we went to drop our bags, and then back out to get food.

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This time, we didn’t climb the tower to watch the sunset due to the rain and heavy fog – which finally showed me why there’s a lighthouse in the first place – but instead went to the Dutch Ale House for a drink. They had the rare Founder’s Kentucky Barrel Stout on tap which definitely helped us to unwind from the week. Then it was off to  Miss Lucy’s on Partition Street for dinner. We had checked it out for the first time in November and loved the food – local, healthy, hearty. Just what we needed after a long, rainy drive.

While wrapping up our delicious dessert – which is pretty much a requirement if you’re there – we were informed another table bought us a round of drinks. We figured somebody probably thought we looked like we were celebrating a special occasion…until I turned around and saw my former boss – who now lives in Baltimore – with his wife a few tables away. I knew they’d been in the Catskills for their first anniversary last year, but we had no clue we were both going to be in the area, and neither of us live in New York now. Small world!

Travis and  I finished dinner and headed back to the Lighthouse after letting our friends know how to find it. (It’s very easy to find – put “Saugerties Lighthouse” into Waze and it’ll take you right to the parking area. There are also signs all over town. The only reason we let them know was because it was dark and rainy).

We accidentally left the Lighthouse key in my car at first so Travis waited on the porch for me to run back and grab it. I didn’t use my headlamp and instead let the misty moon guide me until I heard rustling on the trail. I flicked on my lamp just in time to see Anna, Patrick, and Cricket approaching.

“I’m so sorry for blinding you!”

“It’s okay. Are you good?” Always calm, Anna made sure I was okay before they continued on their walk home. I grabbed the keys and walked back in the darkness, explaining why I was out there once we were indoors.

“When we saw it was you, we thought, ‘oh, she gets it.’ You really don’t need a light here. And you’ve been here often enough…you know the way,” Anna smiled as I took off my muddy shoes. At the Lighthouse Travis and I got our jackets and a bottle of wine and went out to the porch area to once again enjoy the refreshing stillness that is increasingly difficult to find in today’s fast-paced life.  Our friends met us outside and we enjoyed quiet conversation, catching up on the last year until it was time to sleep and for them to return to their hotel.

Morning followed with delicious French toast prepared by Patrick, Travis and I booked a room for next year, and then it was off to hike at Overlook Mountain. Weather for the afternoon was supposed to be decent but the evening called for thunderstorms and even hail…so we weren’t planning to camp as usual. Patrick let us know to be careful with parking because the lot fills up on the weekends – and it was packed. We waited about 20 minutes for a spot to open up before hitting the trail. The plan was up to the Overlook ruins and then down to Echo Lake – about 10 miles in total. The weather held and the views – including the storm clouds – were beautiful. Next time we’ll likely look into camping at Echo Lake, but we’d want to arrive early – there were many people at the designated camping spots around the lake by the time we got there in the early afternoon. We’ve noticed in the last year especially these outdoor areas where we find peace and quiet are slowly becoming busier and busier…and thus our choice of destination is also becoming less well-known to ensure we still get the respite we seek.

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Since we knew we wouldn’t be camping we had called Opus 40 on the drive up to the Lighthouse to see if we could spend our second night in Saugerties with them. We’d visited last fall on the recommendation of friends who had recently been in the area, and – just as with the Lighthouse – appreciated the stillness and beauty of the environmental sculpture during the troubled times. I’d received an email with an inside tip that they now offered a room in the house Fite built himself on Air B&B. Although Tad and Pat were out of town, they warmly welcomed us, thanks to the caretaker staying for the weekend who would be our host. It was getting dark when we arrived after dinner at Joshua’s in Woodstock (great Mediterranean food and tasty drinks that were perfect after a day of hiking) and all we really wanted was a shower and a bed. Our host greeted us, gave us a tour of the perfectly-rustic area of the house we would have for the night, and left us to wash off and relax. The shower was hot, the bed was soft, and the kitty outside our door was friendly as we sat on the steps and stared at the stones in the moonlight.

I’ve been awoken by rats digging through my bags in the middle of the night before, and I thought I knew what scratching and squeaking like in the night meant when it happened at Opus 40…but to my surprise, the scratching and squeaking were not coming from the floor below us but the window above the bed. I scared the mated pair of cardinals nearly as much as they scared me when I sat up straight and whipped my head to face the source of the sound in the predawn moments. Snuggling back into bed to sleep for more hours I kept thinking how funny the birds were, trying to fly through the window, but instead scrambling on the ledge when their beaks met glass.

When we finally awoke from our hike-induced sleep Travis pulled back the blinds to reveal a perfectly beautiful morning and the centerpiece of Harvey Fite’s environmental sculpture just outside our sliding glass door. I also saw the cardinal pair sitting in the tree right outside our window, occasionally flying back to the window ledge to try again to fly through. We took our time getting the car packed and our host gave us a small tour of the rest of the house too – a very unusual treat indeed. It was quite a privilege to see the sculptures Fite created inside the house he built while hearing stories about his life. After our little tour we wandered the grounds a bit and then headed out to get breakfast before beginning our drive home.

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If you’d like to experience a unique and artistic getaway,  you may need to be patient: the Lighthouse books up often over a year in advance, but you can occasionally catch a last-minute cancellation if you sign up for their email list (which is how I got in). Opus 40 had considerably more availability but has only one room compared with the Lighthouse – and I would wager this best-kept hidden hospitality secret won’t stay that way for long. Those in search of an insider peek of an artist’s world will definitely want to stay here.

Saugerties Lighthouse: (845) 247-0656, www.saugertieslighthouse.com Free to visit the trail and porch area from dawn until dusk year-round, room rates from $225

Opus 40: 845-246-3400, www.opus40.org $10 adults, $7 students, $3 for ages 6-12, 6 and under free. Open seasonally from Memorial Day through October, Thursday through Sunday and holiday Mondays 11am-5pm. Call to schedule an off-season visit or request special event information. Room rates from $200 – book on Air B&B

Saugerties Lighthouse, day 2

I haven’t been very good at finishing the stories I’ve started on here thus far…the only reason the Arizona story was complete so quickly is because I’d already written it as an email series to my family upon my return (oops). But it’s a new year, and this blog has been real for a year now, so I’m going to do my best to continue what I’ve begun!

That bring us back to the Saugerties Lighthouse post. I had the wonderful fortune to return to the lighthouse in the fall, but I’ll write that story another day – and what a story it became, after the fact. For now, here’s the rest on that first serene weekend on the Hudson.

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We creaked open the hatch in the lighthouse tower and squeezed ourselves up into the dome, with a 360* view of the Hudson and the surrounding areas. Creeping out of the dome onto the balcony, the Catskills were a deep blue in the background and the sun threw warm pinks and oranges over the top.

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We stepped back into the dome and I took one of my favorite travel photos – not my ultimate favorite, but I really liked the reflection the sun threw on the dome, thus making a ghost image of the mountaints:

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Wine in hand and bellies full, we stood in the tower talking until the sun had long set. One bottle down, we climbed back down the ladder – very carefully this time – and closed the hatch behind us. The other room was as-yet unoccupied, and Anna and Patrick had gone to sleep. We took our candy and the other bottle of wine and went to relax on the deck we’d played music on before. The weather was still warm and we stepped down the stairs, tiptoeing through the dark, edging toward the water.

“OUCH!” I yelled, probably far too loudly for the late hour.

“What did you do?”

“I stepped on something sharp. Ow ow ow!” I hobbled back toward the stairs on my other foot, grabbing at whatever I’d stepped on. It felt sort of star-shaped and all the arms were sharp. I pulled it out and tossed it back toward the water from which it had come.

The couple staying in the other room arrived as we ate our candy on the deck. They said this was their annual getaway from the kids and they’d been there before. We said we were hiking buddies who heard about the lighthouse from a travel article.

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to go camping, but then I met her, ” the man gestured toward his wife. “Have you heard of this program where you can pack your bags, and then at the trailhead someone else comes to get them for you, and goes up and sets up camp, and all you have to do is walk up the mountain? You guys might like that.”

Mike and I looked at each other, trying not to laugh. We were wearing our headlamps in the dark and would have looked even more ridiculous than we probably did. “No, we aren’t familiar with such a thing. We usually carry everything up ourselves.”

“Oh….well, you might be too advanced then. Well, we had a long drive, so see you in the morning. Patrick makes a great breakfast!”

We giggled once they left, and shortly thereafter, made our way upstairs too.

The following morning we were treated to pancakes, eggs, tea, and – for Mike and the others – bacon. Our housemates were correct: Patrick makes a great breakfast. The breakfast conversation was a bit comical as the other guests tried to find common topics to discuss.

“I really love these placemats. Where did you get them?” the wife asked Anna. I can’t even remember what Anna’s response was but I do remember Mike telling me later he hoped his life never revolves around placemats.

The couple left to pack their bags while we continued to eat. Patrick came back out and we picked his brain on local day hikes we could do before we headed home. “Where do you recommend we go?”

“I’ll print you out a list of local hikes. I recommend Huckleberry Point if you want something that’s more hiking. Overlook Mountain has neat ruins in it but it’s a gravel path the entire way up. Kaaterskill Falls is the highest two-tiered waterfall in New York and it’s an easy hike.” His voice was soft but his eyes danced as he described each hike to us. It was clear he’d walked them all.

“I have a question…what are those star-shaped spiky things out there on the sand? I think they’re plants. Mike thinks they’re sea creatures. Who’s right?” I asked, remembering the pain in my heel.

“You’re both half-right.” Patrick half-grinned as he pulled a nature book off the window ledge. “It’s a water plant.” He left us to read the description of what I’d stepped on in the dark, and Mike and I thought about what a cool job it would be to really know the land surrounding the lighthouse and not have to work in an office all day.

As we prepared to leave, we looked at the reservation book for the following year and were able to book a weekend in October to see the foliage – October 2016, that is. The current year was already booked. I bought a magnet and postcard to remember the trip, and then we were ready to go. Off we went down the path again, and into the car to go to Kaaterskill Falls.

The hike was short and easy, as Patrick had described, and it reminded me of the hike to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. The bartender I’d met at Phantom Ranch had told me that was one of the least-challenging hikes with the best payoffs he ever did, and Kaaterskill was very similar.

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Less than a mile and barely any elevation changes, and we were treated to this sight.

We hiked back out and headed over to the trailhead for Huckleberry Point. The first part of the trail was a steep vertical climb on what looked to be a riverbed and there was still some snow and ice on which we had to watch our footing. Then the trail split off and veered to the right, where we crossed a stream and then stayed nearly level until we reached the ledges. We could see the entire valley below, the river upon which we’d stayed in the hazy distance. The photo does absolutely no justice to the vastness we saw below – partially because the trees had yet to bloom, so everything was very open.

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The hike took a couple of hours, and although it wasn’t strenuous, we were tired when we returned to the car. It was time to go home, and time for this adventure to come to an end. I knew I’d be back to enjoy the stillness of the lighthouse and the rugged beauty of the nearby mountains.

Saugerties Lighthouse, day 1

I get a handful of daily travel and adventure digests in my inbox. Usually I take a quick glance, maybe view a slideshow or two, and file them in my “travel” folder for when I’m planning my next adventure. Then I can filter through and see what to do at my destination.

Sometimes, the “what to do” is the destination. Take a list I got of the “Most Unique Hotels in the World” just about a year ago. I clicked the link because it featured an African treehouse that’s been on my list for a couple years.  Most of the hotels were similarly far-flung, but I noticed one was not only domestic, but also in New York: Saugerties Lighthouse. Not one to let adventure pass me by, I immediately looked to book a date…and discovered they were full through the end of the calendar year. Bookings opened periodically throughout the year and previous guests had first pick. I added my email to their cancelation mailing list and sent the link to one of my adventure buddies, my coworker Mike.

We oohed and aahed over the beautiful photos but no cancelations came through that worked into either of our schedules. I kept the Lighthouse on my list of places to go, but slowly let it slip from my mind as it seemed less and less likely I’d actually be able to make it happen. One day, yes. This year? Probably not. (Neither would the Chalkley Treehouse, but I don’t give up easily. I would just remain patient).

This winter was particularly cold, snowy, and brutal here in New York, and lasted over a month longer than normal. I was restless, even after a rather spontaneous birthday trip to Mexico (more to come on that) in mid-March. On April 2nd I awoke before my alarm and saw an email for a cancelation on April 18th. In my sleepy haze, I programmed the phone number into my phone, set an alarm for 9am (when I could call), and went back to sleep. I called back at 9am sharp and actually got through to the lighthouse keeper! That weekend was free for me and I craved some sort of adventure. We booked the room on the spot and I went to work giddy with excitement, announcing to Mike he would be joining me, no excuses.

He rearranged his schedule and I set to doing some research on their extensive website where I found places to eat and day hike ideas. We set out early on the 18th with the plan to eat some delicious local food and do a short day hike before checking in.

Upon our arrival in Saugerties, we wandered the main street looking for a restaurant.

“Are you guys hungry?” A young woman about our age called from across the street. “I’m going to Love Bites Cafe – they have the best breakfast!” We crossed over and followed our new friend Savannah to the cafe on the next block while she enlightened us with more restaurants and hike ideas. I insisted she sit with us but she was getting takeout. Instead, she snagged some paper from the bartender and wrote us a list of places to go. “And finally, here’s where I work, in Woodstock. If you come see me, I’ll make sure to hook you up. I hope you guys have a great time here!”

Full of delicious food (and one adult beverage each), we squeezed in a short hike to a river before parking at the trail head for the Lighthouse. The parking lot was fairly full but it was the first beautiful day we’d had since fall – not surprising to see so many people out. Mike and I picked up our bags and walked down the half mile trail to find the Lighthouse. Turning a corner among some reeds, it stood squarely in front of us – completely hidden until that moment.

IMG_2182  Out on a peninsula in the middle of the Hudson River, built for a slower pace of life when water travel was more prevalent, stood the Saugerties Lighthouse. We walked around to the porch in the back, facing the river, and relaxed with the crowd until it was time to check in.

Anna, a petite and soft-spoken young woman with big brown eyes, met us in the kitchen. She’d been in the lighthouse for about five years; her husband Patrick – with whom I’d made the reservation – about ten years. “We’ll take care of breakfast. Well…Patrick will. He makes an excellent breakfast. All other meals, you’re welcome to use the kitchen, or the grill outside. If you want to use this stove, here is how you light it.” Everything in the kitchen was old except the people standing in it.

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We followed Anna upstairs to our room – the East Room, facing right out above the porch and over the river. “We didn’t even need to bring our guitars.” Mike nodded at two guitars in stands at the top of the stairs, next to a book shelf.

“You’re welcome to play them,” Anna followed his gaze. Mike had brought one of his but I’d left my instruments at home.

Setting our bags down, we relaxed for a bit and planned the rest of the afternoon. First, some music on the porch. Then back to town for dinner and wine. Then, more music on the porch while we awaited the sunset.

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We chose to have dinner at the Dutch Ale House in town. Our server was a fun guy from Brooklyn who used to bartend at one of Mike’s favorite haunts. The brews were great, but the burgers are what really stood out. We both got the bacon, egg, & cheese burgers, although mine was minus the bacon and plus a veggie patty. According to Mike, it was the best burger he’d ever had.

I think perhaps he was just hungry from the hiking, but mine was pretty damn delicious too.

Then it was off to the chocolate shop Savannah recommended so we could get some salted caramel marshmallows, and finally to a wine shop to pick up sunset drinks.

“Where are you guys staying?”

“At the lighthouse.”

“With Anna and Patrick!! Aren’t they wonderful? Tell them we said hello!” The wine shop owner’s sentiments were echoed all over town anytime we mentioned where we were staying. Anna, Patrick, and the lighthouse are beloved fixtures in Saugerties.

Bellies full of burgers, bottles and candy in our arms, we walked the half-mile trail back to the lighthouse, where the porch crowd had slimmed down. I hung my hammock and reclined to write while Mike played guitar on the bench next to me, passing the white wine between us.

As the wind picked up and the sun began to lower, we gathered our instruments and the hammock and put them back in our room. With the bottle of red wine now open, we ascended the steep, narrow tower steps to the small balcony to watch the sun set.